Health: Technology helping to tackle hearing loss stigma

Hearing loss patient Chris Hatton, right, with Sanjay Verma, who is a consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
Hearing loss patient Chris Hatton, right, with Sanjay Verma, who is a consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
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Hearing loss affects a staggering one in six of the UK population.

But charities have warned that despite the prevalence of hearing issues, stigma still remains over wearing hearing aids and the problem is feared to be causing mass isolation and loneliness among older people.

Hearing loss therefore goes largely undiagnosed, with Action on Hearing stating that at least four million people in the UK who don’t have hearing aids would benefit from using them.

Attitudes are changing and awareness is growing however, while advances in treatment are breaking down the barriers for people with hearing loss.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTH) is among those taking steps forward for the likes of Chris Hatton, from Pudsey, who has become the first Leeds patient to have a new type of hearing aid fitted which is attached magnetically to the scalp.

The 41-year-old draughtsman became deaf in one ear after contracting mumps eight years ago and lived with the disability for years before he sought a remedy for his regular headaches.

“It has a kind of sci-fi look and I get lots of questions about it. People are always amazed that something so small actually works and restores my hearing,” he said. “I can do things which I previously couldn’t do and I often find I forget I am wearing it.”

Chris has had a Cochlear Attract hearing aid fitted, which involves an implant under the skin and a sound processor that magnetically attaches to the scalp.

Inside his head, a titanium implant was inserted into the bone behind the ear during a small operation. Sound is picked up and transmitted as vibrations from the external sound processor via the magnet to the implant, which then directs them through the bone of the skull to stimulate the inner ear, allowing Chris to hear. He previously would have needed a direct and visible connection through the skin.

Sanjay Verma, consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon at LTH, implanted the device in an operation which took around 40 minutes, and Chris was able to go home the same day. Mr Verma said: “It does away with the need to attend multiple aftercare clinics so the number of follow-up visits are kept to a minimum, which is much more convenient for the patient and cuts down the costs.”

The likes of the Royal Voluntary Service claim existing stigma surrounding hearing loss is leaving thousands of people isolated.

And with an estimated 10million people suffering with it, moving forward with non-invasive, effective treatment could make the idea of seeking help a far more attractive proposition.

THE EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM IN THE UK

There are more than 10million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss.

Within that, around 3.7m are aged 16 to 64 and 6.3m are of retirement age.

By 2031, it is estimated that there will be 14.5m people with hearing loss in the UK.

About 2m people in the UK have hearing aids, but only 1.4m use them regularly.

At least 4m people who don’t have hearing aids would benefit from using them.

About one in 10 UK adults have mild tinnitus. Visit actiononhearingloss.org.uk.

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